Friday, January 7, 2011

Cinema Style File--the French Style of Godard's 1960 BREATHLESS (A Bout de Souffle)

Breathless (A Bout de Souffle), Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 classic, is iconic for many reasons.  For one, the French New Wave began telling stories in a different way than other films of the time, blending Italian neo-realism (using poverty-stricken or working class characters) with tongue-in-cheek old Hollywood.  Breathless specifically drew inspiration from 1940s film noir; the lead character, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), kills a police officer at the very beginning of the movie and spends the rest running from the law.  Michel even idolizes Humphrey Bogart, who is referenced several times.  The difference between the two characters, though, is Michel's easy-going nature, even in crisis and on the lam.  There was tremendous sprezzatura to Michel's anti-social behavior, and this was very new and very appealing to a rebellious young audience.

Also appealing were the technical boundaries being tried and tested in Breathless, and the movie is a great example of early independent film-making.  There was the jump-cut picture and sound editing, where Godard would cut within a scene instead of limiting himself to just between scenes. Also, the script was apparently not fully written before shooting began, and instead Godard created most of it each morning with input from the cast.  Then there was the incredible cinematography that often only used available light, including indoors throughout the lengthy bedroom scene.  

And despite how well known Breathless is for its style, there was no costume designer or official costumes for the movie.  Instead, Godard encouraged his actors to wear their own clothing and make choices they thought appropriate for each character.  I really believe it's this authenticity behind the style that has made Breathless so memorable to people.  Jean Seberg, in particular, became an icon for gamine chic right alongside Audrey Hepburn, and it's almost entirely because of her look in this movie.  Though classic, it also always seems very fresh and modern and one we can continue to draw inspiration from time and time again.

Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) having a Bogey moment

Patricia (Jean Seberg) and Michel dressing up and down while playing in the bedroom

Michel and Patricia sharing his pinstripe shirt--very sexy

Patricia's striped shirt is classic French style

Ladylike while strategizing at a French sidewalk cafe

One of the rare times when Michel wasn't stealing a great American car for them to drive

More classic stripes, this time in a belted dress that shows some of the last influences of 1950s style

It's all in the details...the driving cap + the tie + the striped shirt...

...and amazing eyewear on both Michel and Patricia

Sometimes the greatest style of all is just a beautiful face

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